Poetry

Japanese Poetry


Kojiki is the earliest written work of Japanese literature, published in 712. In the Kojiko, Ō no Yasumaro wrote down history and mythology that had been told to him by Hieda no Are, who heard the stories from his ancestors. It is thought that many of the poetic stories in this work come from the time before there was any written Japanese language. Eight years after that work, another collection of poems was released. It was called the Nihonshoki. Most of poems in this book were very short and did not have any fixed forms. A kami(god) receives credit for the first poem in both of the books. Its name is Susanoo, who is Amaterasu's younger brother. The kami wrote the uta (poem) after it married a princess named Kushinada in the province of Izumo.

With the first poems being credited to the kami, poetry is thought as having been divinly created. Both of the books have similar poems, but the Nihonshoki was a little more current for the time it was written. It includes events that happened up until the time that Emporer Temmu came to power. The themes that were covered in the aka of the two books were quite diverse. They covered such disparate subject matter as love, satire, sorrow, praise of victory, war cries, riddles, and much more. Many of the poems were anonymously written, but most were said to have come from, emperors, kami, empresses, generals, nobles, court enemies, and commoners. Even when someone is credited for one of the poems, many of them are still considered to be "works of the people."

The Manyoshu contains twenty volumes and is said to be the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry. It was finished during the early Heian period and gathered together ancient works. The poems are arranged in approximate chronological order. Many of them use a fixed form that is named chola and tanka. However, the poems that were credited to Emporer Yuryaku in the first volume have no fixed form. The first poem is a song of love for a girl with whom the poet had a chance meeting and also a song of ritual that praises the land's beauty. It is still used in court rituals. Most of the three first sections are written by seventh and eight century poets. Kakinomoto Hitomaro and Nukata no Ōkima are two of the most recognized of them. In fact, Hitomaro is regarded as one of Japanese literature's best poets of all time.

One of the most unique forms of traditional Japanese poetry is the haiku.  A haiku consists of just seventeen mora (words).  These mora are organized into three lines of five, seven, and five words each.  The haiku is a very strict form, but has been able to achieve amazing popularity with people around the world.  In fact, the haiku is so popular that there are entire periodicals devoted just to the art form, such as Modern Haiku magazine.

basho uete
mazu nikumu ogi no
futaba kana

by my new banana plant
the first sign of something I loathe
a miscanthus bud!  (Matsuo Basho - 1680)